The British empire in sub-Saharan Africa
Time: 19:30 - 21:00
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HWH62
Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)
Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.
What is the course about?
Through trade, technology and empire, Britain has played a significant role in shaping modern Africa. Often working with African agents, Britain carved out new borders, spread ideas, and brought the continent into global markets. It also exported violence to Africa, both military and structural, and today remains far wealthier than its former colonies. This course examines Britain’s major projects below the Sahara in the past 150 years, asking how the empire changed its colonies and how independent states have functioned since.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
This course covers six roughly chronological topics:
1. Taking power
2. Imperial rule
3. Decolonisation i: Mau Mau
4. Decolonisation ii: Rhodesia to Zimbabwe
6. Case Study: The fall of apartheid in South Africa
In week 1, we explore how Britain gradually took power from Africans, from the transatlantic slavery to the use of racial theory and the dominance of international trade as early British rule are key to exploring its long-term impact (and limitations). Our case studies are the Stairs Expedition and the conquest of Nigeria.
We then examine the colonial era as a formative period: the rise of ‘gatekeeper states’, the exploitation of land and labour, and the imposition of white supremacy, particularly in settler colonies, and World War Two as a catalyst for change. Our case studies are Uganda and the rise of apartheid in South Africa.
In week three, we consider the traumatic legacy of British decolonisation in Kenya: the colonial roots of the Mau Mau rebellion, Britain’s brutal response, and the legacies of British rule.
The fourth session turns to south-central Africa to consider decolonisation in Rhodesia, from the Central African Federation to the UDI crisis and the rise of Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe.
Session five considers the turbulent independence of Ghana, Zanzibar and Tanzania and how effective each was in shaking off the imperial past, asserting agency, serving their citizens, and forging new destinies amid collapsing empires, Cold War conflicts and neo-colonial threats.
Lastly, we examine how South Africans shook off white supremacy implemented by British settlers and how the recurrent themes of divide-and-rule, land rights and industrialisation converged into the edifice of apartheid - and ask how the system was abolished in the 1990s. We shall also consider whether this was the end of racial division, and to what extent South Africans still live with the ghosts of British rule today.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
- understand Britain’s role in sub-Saharan Africa
- understand the role of Africans in colonial state-building.
- talk confidently about the political economy of the British Empire and how it shaped the continent
- critically reflect on the question of the legacies of the British empire in Sub-Saharan Africa.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
This course is introductory and open to all learners. No prior knowledge of Africa is required. It would be useful to have studied course ‘African history for beginners’ in the autumn term, to become acquainted with the major themes in African history - but this is not mandatory.
Additionally, the course may prove useful for professionals hoping to incorporate colonial history into their work.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The classes will be a combination of lectures given by the tutor and class discussions driven by the students. There will be one piece of required reading per week. Students will be asked to briefly summarise what they have learned from the reading, guided by the tutor. This will allow students to hear about a wide variety of sources from their peers and will encourage the class to work through the course as a team.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Students will benefit from note-making, but this is not compulsory.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
HWH84 Understanding postcolonial Africa
HWH85 From Slavery to Independence: Britain & West Africa
HWH57 African history reading group
HWH96 The Global Cold War.
James studied at the University of Warwick and the London School of Economics, specialising in empires, colonialism and globalisation. He finished top of his class in African history and his postgraduate thesis explored the Central African Federation, focusing on the political economy of the British Empire after WWII. Today, he researches state power, propaganda and economic crises and their relationships to violence, consent and rebellion. In 2018, James began a fellowship with Google, during which he was placed at the Times newspaper in London, before training as a journalist with the NCTJ. He has worked as a reporter for a local paper in Essex and as an English tutor in East London. At City Lit, James teaches courses on political economy, African history and British imperialism. He believes education should be available to all and encourages a diversity of ideas in the classroom. For James, education is about scrutinising the systems around us and imagining alternative ways to live.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.